We spend around a third of our lives doing it. And more than water and food, we need it, or we will quickly start to experience negative mental and emotional effects. After all, there is a reason why sleep deprivation is considered a torture method.
Unfortunately, many of us Malaysians seem to be doing this to ourselves, with many not even aware that they have a problem in the first place! According to a national sleep survey done by Nielsen Malaysia this year, nine in 10 Malaysians (89%) suffer from one or more sleep problems.
Nearly half of them (46%) report that they wake up in the middle of the night, while just under a third say they feel tired and unrested in the morning (32%), feel sleepy or have fallen asleep during the day (32%), and snore (29%) respectively.
On the surface, chronic snoring is an annoyance to the snorer’s bedmate or roommate, but it not only disrupts the other person’s sleep, but also the snorer’s own rest. It can also be an indication of a more serious health condition like obstructive sleep apnoea.
Another common sleep problem experienced by one in four Malaysians (26%) is difficulty in falling asleep. According to the survey, four in 10 Malaysians take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep; 10 to 20 minutes is the norm.
And these problems do not occur infrequently as brand consultant Sherlyne Yong says: “We have numbers stating that, among those who have sleep problems, 66% of them face these problems at least once a week.”
Yong, who is with Winthrop Management, was presenting the survey results to the media at Amlife International Sdn Bhd’s World Sleep Day media event recently. Amlife, which produces mattresses with Japanese technology, commissioned the survey.
Not surprising then, that four in 10 Malaysians report that they wake up still feeling sleepy, drowsy or very tired. When asked what they thought was the cause of their sleep problems, the top reason – listed by over half the survey respondents (52%) – was stress, anxiety and depression.
Other common reasons include unhealthy lifestyle and sleep habits (34%), which affects Chinese aged 25 to 39 the most; environmental issues (26%), which is most common among Malays and Chinese aged 40 to 49; and spending too much time on electronic gadgets (25%), also highest among Chinese aged 25 to 39.
“There are a few more reasons, we have illnesses, pain, frequent urination, respiratory problems, ageing, and alcohol or caffeine use,” adds Yong.
The irony is that the survey also uncovered the fact that 35% of the respondents rely on media to aid them in falling asleep. This includes watching television, listening to the radio or playing games. Only half of Malaysians appear to fall asleep naturally, without any external aid.
It takes its toll
There are, of course, consequences for this lack of quality sleep. The top five reported by the survey respondents were: headache (40%), fatigue (37%), trouble thinking or concentrating (37%), shoulder and neck pain (33%), and temperament and mood swings (26%).
Sleep expert and psychiatrist Prof Dr Laura Palagini says: “If we don’t sleep well, we are at risk of developing a lot of disorders, such as mental disorders like anxiety and depression, metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders like hypertension and sudden cardiac arrest.”
This is as sleep helps to regulate many of the hormones that affect our emotions, stress system and metabolism.
“A good night’s sleep is therapy for our emotions, and reconstructs our cognitive and emotional stability during the night,” adds the professor in psychophysiology at the University of Pisa, Italy.
“If we don’t sleep, the brain cortex doesn’t work well anymore and the entire decision-making process is impaired. If we don’t sleep well, we’re more prone to make risky decisions, be impulsive and have aggressive behaviour,” she says.
The good news is that nine out of 10 Malaysians are aware that poor sleep can be the cause of many problems.
The top five problems they believe it causes are: health-related issues (78%); affecting emotions and causing mood swings (73%); affecting mental focus (70%); decreasing productivity (65%); and causing beauty or skin problems (47%).
Six out of 10 Malaysians also correctly believe that sleeping longer does not equate to quality sleep. Prof Pagalini, who was speaking at the media event, explains that it is more important to have regular sleeping hours, even on the weekends.
“Obviously, you can sleep a little bit more on the weekends as you are more relaxed, but you cannot recover one week’s worth of sleep in two days – it is so wrong. It will be a risk factor to develop a sleeping disorder, so it is better to keep a regular time and have enough sleep everyday.”
According to the survey, Malaysians on average get six hours and 18 minutes’ worth of sleep per night. The recommended amount of sleep is between seven to nine hours of sleep nightly.
A more worrying finding is that only one in four (24%) Malaysians realise they have sleep problems, with another one-third (33%) saying they do not have sleep problems, even though they report encountering such problems. The remaining 43% do not know if they have sleep problems.
Prof Pagalini says that the first thing to do in addressing the problem is to prevent it from happening via raising awareness about the issue.
“The most important thing is to have a healthy lifestyle, to invest in a comfortable bedroom and bed, and to have a regular routine. And obviously, if you develop a sleep problem, the first line treatment is behavioural therapy, and at the end, we will use drugs, but we try to avoid that.”